MOOC MOOC in pencil sketch

MMDU: Bleeding Horses, Breaking Habits, Overthrowing the Course

 Published on February 4, 2014 /  Written by /  4

MOOC MOOC: Dark Underbelly (MMDU) is a rambunctious series of discussions about the past, present, and future of higher education, focusing on topics rising directly from Cathy Davidson’s distributed #futureEd experiment and its various offspring. Our first chat focused on chaotic learning environments, vulnerability, and internet trolls. Some highlights from the conversation:

This week, we’ll shift focus a bit, as we continue to circle our prey.

In her video (Lecture 2.3) for Week 2 of “The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education”, Cathy Davidson compares the work of farmers to that of factory workers. She relates how pre-industrial farmers were engaged in a constant process of peer-to-peer learning (finding out from other farmers how to mend fences, for example) and decision making. If a farmer set out one day to mend his fence, she offers, only to find that his horse was trapped in the fence and had been injured, he was able to change plans. Decision making was part of his education as a farmer — an education that occurred, literally, in the field.

Industrial age education has instead put its emphasis on orderliness and standardization. The same thing gets done in the same way every day in every classroom. It is, as Cathy puts it, concerned with the regulation of the body, of human life, of cognition, and maturity. The human becomes the machine, programmable, powered by discipline, and more capable of training than of learning and relearning. It’s an education that happens inside containers — conceptual containers, the containers of the classroom and school, the containers of the course, the term, the credit hour. Under the rigor of the educational establishment, we do not venture into the field until we can march there.

This week’s #MOOCMOOC discussion (at 7PM Eastern on Feb. 5) will, at least in part, turn the lens on ourselves. In what ways have we been conditioned by the industrial educational machine? Can we trace our desire for order to our elementary school? Do we enforce (or exactly not enforce) rigid guidelines and rules in our classrooms because our education taught us they were effective, efficient, and ideal? In this discussion, we want to think of the containers we ourselves have become, and the ways we ask our students (and colleagues) to fit into containers themselves.

Some questions to consider in advance of the discussion:

  1. What would you do without a syllabus? Can you imagine a class run without one? What about a course? Can you envision an education that operates without courses?

  2. In what ways have we learned to rely on the containers of education — not just the term, the course, the credit hour, but also rigor, reputation, accomplishment?

  3. How do we run our classrooms — or how do we run our lives — in ways that prepare our students and ourselves for standardized tests? Consider here all the ways we learn, from setting goals at the gym to citing sources.

Join us this week on Wednesday, Feb. 5, at 7PM Eastern to discuss these and more questions. And, if you are unable to participate this week, there’s more MOOC MOOC ahead! See our original announcement for more about this 6-week discussion series, and visit for lots of archived materials from the previous iterations of our MOOC about MOOCs. Also, continue to watch Page Two over the next several weeks for additional feautures about #futureEd, including reflections on what’s underway in the various nodes, highlights from participants, and more.

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4 Responses
  1. Will have to miss this live chat coz of timezone issues, so thought i would contribute here.

    I have to make a syllabus for my institution but i almost never follow it. I let students know that early on and negotiate almost every two weeks. Some ppl think am crazy but it works for me and my adult students.

    The last question, though, surprises me. Why should we prep students for standardized tests? Deep learning often prepares ppl for standardized tests indirectly… But these tests should never be our goal. I am still amazed that they persist in the US

  2. Molly Shields

    A preface should’ve been included for this chat, something along the lines of “Questions explored will be more relateable if participants are in a position to modify syllabi.”

    It was quite frustrating to watch a dialogue unfold without broaching the topics of course oversight, increasing standardization, and/or the inflexibility that most contingent faculty members draft syllabi under. If going ‘rogue’ is the prevalent idea of stretching the container that is the syllabus, which seems to be the back-patting consensus from the chat, then that speaks volumes for those with the privilege to do so. If not for the previously published contributions of Hybrid Pedagogy, the surface-level impression of this #moocmooc chat would be enough to label the participants as whining about #firstworldproblems. Entertaining the constraints of syllabi is fine-and-dandy, but the conversation can’t be had without acknowledging the elephant(s) in the room. The latter seems to be more important than drawing a graphic version of a syllabus. The chat did nothing but disregard the container that is becoming increasingly smaller and smaller.

    1. Really important point. Quoting you, as we speak, in a HASTAC post we’re working on. It’s exactly these existing, limiting systems that our future #moocmooc chats hope to push upon. I’m less interested in grand proclamations about the death of the course or syllabi and more interested helping find the cracks we can widen, even slightly. And I absolutely agree that some are in a better (privileged) position to do that work.

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